Glen Garden Country Club could become distillery

05/16/2014 4:38 PM

05/16/2014 5:37 PM

If some local businessmen have their way, the historic Glen Garden Country Club could trade birdies and bogeys for barrels of whiskey.

The country club where golf legends Ben Hogan and Byron Nelson once learned the game is under contract to be sold to Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. of Fort Worth. The owners, Leonard Firestone and Troy Robertson, say they need to expand operations from their current location at 901 W. Vickery Blvd.

They have a new vision for the 106-acre country club in southeast Fort Worth that opened in 1912, transforming it into a distillery and meeting center. But they insist they will keep much of the open land, similar to what is seen along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail or at popular California vineyards.

At their current location, more than 10,000 people have toured the facility along with numerous private parties, including fundraisers for Mayor Betsy Price and state Sen. Wendy Davis. Firestone & Robertson’s TX Whiskey was named “Best American Craft Whiskey” in 2013.

“In our business having land is very important,” Firestone said. “We need space, but want to have that farm-like experience.”

The business has grown to 15 employees and would eventually hire another 20 employees if they purchase Glen Garden. They expect to have hourly tours with operating hours for visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

They predict the storied golf course would become a statewide tourist attraction.

“There will be no other facility like this that has been built in the state,” Robertson said.

But Firestone and Robertson won’t close on the deal unless they get approval to rezone the property from the Fort Worth Zoning Commission and Fort Worth City Council. Currently, they are scheduled to appear before the zoning commission on June 11 and the council on July 15.

Mixed reviews

Getting support from surrounding neighborhoods may not be as difficult as making a hole-in-one — but it could prove challenging.

“I think it’s getting mixed reviews,” said Fort Worth City Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray, whose district includes the country club. She hasn’t taken a position on the distillery’s plans.

The whiskey makers hosted a small group of residents on May 2 and plan to meet with the Glencrest Civic League at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Bradley Center, which is in Tadlock Park near the golf course.

“Let’s put it out there and let the community decide,” Gray said.

She said some residents were swayed when they visited the company’s warehouse but not everybody was convinced.

“Everyone who came to the original meeting said ‘No,’” Gray said. “They didn’t know what the distillery was. As the tour went on, I think some were like ‘this is probably a good idea. This is something unique.’ ”

Marie Love, president of the Glencrest Civic League, attended the meeting and said there are still concerns about losing the golf course.

“Most of the neighborhood is not wanting this,” Love said. “There’s a lot of land in Fort Worth. A lot of people are asking why Glen Garden Country Club?”

Howard Ratliff, who lives across the street from Glen Garden, remains skeptical about the project. He said most of his neighbors are also uncomfortable with the idea.

“From talking to residents along my street, they’re concerned about having a quasi-industrial distillery and warehouse in our neighborhood,” Ratliff said. “This is a residential neighborhood with a lot of churches along Wichita and Wilbarger. This is really out of character with the neighborhood as it currently exists.”

The distillery owners are planning a visitors center and production facility. They would keep the country club’s lake and would build metal storage building to age whiskey.

With the sold-out tours at their current facility, they plan on keeping the clubhouse and displaying memorabilia from the golf course’s history in the visitor’s center.

While no firm plans have been made, Firestone said they may try to keep several holes from the golf course intact.

Dead Solid Perfect

Glen Garden opened in 1912 when H.H. Cobb of the OK Cattle Co. decided to build his own course after he was denied entry into exclusive River Crest Country Club.

If it closes, a lot of Fort Worth golf history would be lost, said Fort Worth journalist and author Dan Jenkins, who was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2012 and whose family once had a membership at Glen Garden.

“If you’re an old guy like me, the fact that Ben and Byron caddied there is big deal,” Jenkins said. “They hosted one of the greatest invitational golf tournaments in the state in the 20s and 30s. There’s so much golf history there, but things change and neighborhoods change.”

When Jenkins’ novel, Dead Solid Perfect, became an HBO movie in 1988, Jenkins spent about a week at Glen Garden while scenes were being shot.

“That’s another reason I’m sensitive about seeing anything happen to it,” Jenkins said. “I haven’t played it in a long time but I used to play it as part of the TCU golf team. It seems like all of these old courses are going away. The least they could do is keep nine holes of it.”

But if the neighborhood successfully fights the zoning change, it is uncertain what would happen to the country club. It has been on the market for about two years and Love said residents don’t really want to see it becoming anything else.

“What would they support besides a golf course?” Love said. “I don’t know.”

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